The great hunt for Ratko Mladic
By Daniel McGrory and Nick Hawton
A flurry of denials followed claims that the war crimes suspect had been caught
THE rumour mill in Belgrade went into overdrive yesterday amid reports that Europe’s most wanted man had been captured.
Ratko Mladic, the fugitive Bosnian Serb general sought by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, was variously reported to have been captured, surrounded, or on the point of a negotiated surrender in return for cash for his family.
But, as night fell, the initial excited reports pouring out of Serbian television stations gave way to a flurry of denials.
“The news about Ratko Mladic is not correct,” Srdjan Djuric, the government spokesman in Belgrade, said. “This is a manipulation that undermines the Serbian Government’s efforts to complete co-operation with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.”
British officials confirmed that General Mladic was still at large, but said that there was growing international pressure on Belgrade to secure his arrest.
The 62-year-old general, who is accused of genocide and other war crimes, commanded the Bosnian Serb Army during successive civil wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. He is charged with perpetrating the worst war crimes in Europe since the Second World War.
His indictment alleges that he ordered the murder of more than 7,000 men and boys in the Muslim safe haven of Srebrenica in 1995 and was responsible for the 43-month siege of Sarajevo, where 12,000 people were killed.
Speculation about an imminent arrest has been prompted in part by pressure from the European Union, which has warned Serbia and Montenegro that it will halt membership negotiations by next Tuesday if General Mladic is not in custody.
“We have no information that something particular has happened today,” said Florence Hartmann, a spokeswoman for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. “We have said for the last ten days that the arrest could take place very quickly.”
One senior official close to the war crimes investigation in Sarajevo said that he believed that General Mladic was in the safekeeping of elements of the Serb security forces.
There have been rumours that he is negotiating a surrender, and would be prepared to turn himself in if his family received a pay-off and colleagues were given immunity from prosecution.
The official thought that the deal was being brokered “by a group of politicians, clerics and military officers — all Serb, with no outside interference”. There are concerns in Belgrade that yesterday’s premature report of his surrender was put out by elements in Serbia who want to wreck the deal.
Zoran Stankovic, the Serbia and Montenegro Defence Minister, recently told The Times that he had had talks with General Mladic’s family and that “the operation to catch Mladic is under way”.
Dr Stankovic, who has close connections with the Mladic family, said that he held a meeting with the general’s wife and son just before New Year’s Eve. “When something is still in progress, you don’t disclose any information. It would only interfere with the ongoing investigation,” he told The Times.
But his comments will raise speculation that serious efforts are under way by Belgrade to arrest him or to facilitate his surrender. Dr Stankovic denied that his ministry was involved in any financial negotiations for a surrender, adding: “Money means nothing to him. As for the military, he’s not hiding in any of our facilities. We don’t have any information on his whereabouts”.
Reports of the imminent arrest of General Mladic, or his former political master, Radovan Karadzic, proliferate every time Serbia faces a Western deadline. General Mladic lived openly in Belgrade until the fall of Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav President, in 2000.
“Unfortunately, nothing happened,” a spokeswoman for Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor in The Hague, said last night. “Mladic was not arrested, although he is within the reach of the authorities in Belgrade.”
TIMELINE OF THIS DISGUSTING TERRORIST
BELGRADE, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Here are key facts about the Bosnian Serb war crimes fugitive General Ratko Mladic, who was reported by Bosnian and Serbian sources on Tuesday to have been arrested in Serbia, although the Serbian government denied it:
* Mladic was born in the village of Bozanovici in southern Bosnia on March 12, 1942, the son of a partisan killed by pro-Nazi Croatian Ustasha troops in 1945. As a child he wanted to be a teacher, but he went to the Yugoslav capital Belgrade for military studies and was one of the top three graduates.
* He began his army career in 1965, becoming a brigadier over 20 years -- a slow rate of progress that colleagues attributed to an undisciplined manner. He spent most of his career in Macedonia, with short stints in Croatia and Kosovo. He was promoted in 1991 and 1992, rising to lieutenant-general.
* On May 15, 1992 -- with Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims fighting for control of multi-ethnic Bosnia -- Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic made Mladic commander of the Bosnian Serb army, a position he held until December 1996.
* In March 1994, Mladic's daughter Ana shot herself with his pistol. She had been studying medicine in Belgrade.
* In late 1995, the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague indicted Mladic on two counts of genocide for a 43-month siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of 8,000 INNOCENT
Bosnian Muslim in Srebrenica in July 1995.
* He went underground in 2001 after his protector, Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, was toppled. The tribunal said Mladic was in Serbia. NATO said he had visited his old bunker in Bosnia in 2004 to drink with friends, under the noses of police.
* Rumours of his imminent arrest have been frequent, most notably on the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, the 10th anniversary of the Dayton agreements that ended the 1992-1995 war, and every time Serbia faced a milestone in its negotiations on closer ties with the European Union.
* The arrest of top Croatian war crimes fugitive Ante Gotovina last December re-directed the full force of international diplomatic pressure onto Serbia, held responsible for Mladic and five other fugitives still at large, all ethnic Serbs and including Karadzic.
WHAT THESE SERB CHRISTIAN TERRORISTS DID
Praying for their Shehids, ALLAH RAHMET ETSIN